“What is your win-loss ratio?” This is a common question from prospective clients to criminal defense attorneys. Nobody asks this of a doctor. But then again doctors have it easy compared to lawyers. Doctors do not have to operate against another doctor who stands across the table actively trying to worsen the patient’s condition. Yet here you are, in the legal world’s equivalent of the emergency room with a knife sticking out of your chest, asking about win-loss ratios.
Several years ago, I represented a police officer who had been fired after a controversial fatal shooting followed by a DWI arrest (to which he pled guilty with a different lawyer). During the internal affairs investigation surrounding those issues, his former fiancée (also a police officer) accused him of two instances of Assault Family Violence in Williamson County. Frustrated with the system, he came to me for help. In two separate trials, each jury found my client NOT GUILTY. After the second trial, he smiled and told me, “We won.”
The truth is, he did not win anything. After the acquittals, there was no balloon drop, no championship ring, no million-dollar check on oversized cardboard handed over by the fumbling CEO of a corporate sponsor. In the end, after having endured the strain of facing criminal accusations, he was back where he began: with his freedom intact and an opportunity to rebuild his life.
A criminal case is not something that can be “won.” It must be survived. Criminal charges threaten your freedom, challenge your relationships, and rob you of your reputation. Like a knife stuck in your chest, you begin losing the moment law enforcement targets you. The question to ask then is not about wins and losses but about who can most efficiently and painlessly resolve the charges so that you can resume your normal life as fast as possible.
The win-loss question also ignores the basic statistical fact that roughly 90% of all criminal cases in the United States do not go to trial and are resolved by plea agreement, pretrial diversion, deferred prosecution, dismissal, or some combination of those.
However, there are those cases that just cannot be resolved without a jury trial. I do believe that an attorney’s reputation for a willingness to go to trial often yields superior negotiated outcomes—particularly when that willingness is partnered with diligent preparation and courtroom skill in those cases that go to jury trial. Having success at trial certainly adds to that reputation.
So, how have I fared at trial?
Two-thirds of cases I have taken to trial have resulted in acquittals (“not guilty” verdicts) or sentencing outcomes better than the prosecution’s best plea offer. The remainder mostly resulted in sentencing outcomes in line with what we could have bargained for or involved allegations so awful that the prosecution refused to negotiate.
My worst trial results occurred in a few cases where clients insisted upon having a trial against my advice. Because attorney ethics rules say the decision on whether to settle or go to trial belongs solely to the client, I have had clients override my experience, knowledge of the law, and command of the facts to demand their day in court. (Try getting a doctor to give you a heart transplant when you do not need one.)
The case studies linked here simply highlight my experience or demonstrate strategies I used in particular contexts. They are not intended to predict a similar result under the unique circumstances of your case. As they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.